IELTS Listening Question Type: Main Idea

IELTS Listening Main Idea

The “main idea” IELTS Listening question type is fairly rare. In fact, it’s so uncommon that it isn’t found on most lists of IELTS Listening Question types.

Why the Main Idea IELTS Listening Question Type is Important

It’s possible to go through a full IELTS Listening Section without having to answer a question about the main idea of the audio track. And yet, you should always be prepared for this question type.

This may seem like a contradiction, but being prepared to identify the main idea of an IELTS listening prompt makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Even if you don’t have to answer a main idea question, it’s still important to have a good understanding of the main idea in IELTS Listening. The main idea provides the context for all the details. Without a firm grasp on the context of what you’re hearing, it’s easy to miss important details in IELTS Listening. In turn, this can cause you to give incorrect answers and lose points.

So the skills you need in order to answer a “main idea” IELTS Listening question are the same skills you should use in order to fully comprehend any IELTS Listening conversation or speech.

Example IELTS Listening Main Idea Question

Let me give you a sample Main Idea question for IELTS Listening. I’ll base this question on a short talk about an art centre. This talk comes from’s page of official IELTS sample test materials. But the question itself is original to this website. This question will be followed by an explanation of the correct answer.

Question: What is the main thing that National Art Centre offers its visitors?

A) a chance to take drawing classes

B) attractions and exhibits related to many different kinds of art

C) exhibits of famous Renaissance-era art

Answer explanation

The correct answer is (B). The speaker notes that that while the National Art Centre is most famous for music, it features a variety of art forms. (A) is possible but unlikely. Art instruction is not a stated purpose of the National Art Centre; instead the national Art Centre seems more focused on displaying works of art and hosting performance art shows. (C) is possible and somewhat likely — since the Centre has art galleries, it probably displays Renaissance-era art at times. However, this is not explicitly stated in the speech. And even if you could be sure that the National Art Centre displayed Renaissance-era art, this wouldn’t be the main thing that it offers.

Note that the two incorrect answers have one thing in common: neither answer is actually mentioned in the talk. Generally, the correct answer in an IELTS main idea question will be the only answer that is directly, clearly stated in the audio. This makes Main Idea questions relatively easy, so long as you understood the audio well enough to know which ideas were in the audio, and which ones weren’t. This also means that Main Idea question s– when they appear on the exam — provide a very easy clue to the central theme of a speech or conversation.

I hope this helps! For more info, tips, and tricks on IELTS Listening, be sure to read Magoosh’s complete guide to the Listening section of the IELTS.


By the way, improve your IELTS score with Magoosh!

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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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